ONE NUGGET DOES NOT A FORTUNE MAKE
Sure, Knick fans are jazzed about the Antonio McDyess deal. After all, he’s a 27-year-old All-Star and a 20-point, 10-rebound guy. But rewind six years, and remember the last time the Knicks imported a 27-year-old, 20-point, 10-rebound All-Star. The reason McDyess, like Larry Johnson, was available is that he’s damaged goods. LJ’s playoff heroics notwithstanding, he was not the player in New York that he was in Charlotte, never averaging as much as 16 points or as many as six rebounds for the Knicks. Indeed, getting McDyess to drop his opt-out clause only helps if his surgically repaired knees are healthy. If he hadn’t dropped the clause, he could have become a giant strain on the Knicks’ already bloated salary cap. It’s only natural that the press reaction to GM Scott Layden‘s roll of the Dice was favorable—the Knick-beat writers don’t want to spend every April covering the Nets’ playoff opponents—but this deal is a stopgap at best.
McDyess brings the Knicks closer to the playoffs, but further from a championship. The Nuggets, Bulls, Clippers—even the Grizzlies—are all better set for the long haul than the Knicks. It’s going on 30 years since the last Knick championship, and Nenê Hilario (or Caron Butler or Chris Wilcox or Dejuan Wagner), a few more Ping-Pong balls for a shot at Ohio high school savior LeBron James in next year’s draft, and some much needed cap room would have given Knick fans more legitimate hope than McDyess. But Layden is so concerned about public perception—no, we’re not rebuilding—he makes Ari Fleischer look like Eminem. Why else would Lay take point guard Frank Williams with the 25th pick when Gonzaga’s Steve Nash clone was on the board? Because Layden could hear the fans in the Garden’s not-so-cheap seats chanting after Dan‘s first four-turnover quarter, “Suck my Dickau!” —Allen St. John
THE PRICE IS WRONG
Last Saturday, after he’d pitched the Mets to a rare laugher, an 11-2 win against the Yankees, Al Leiter was asked the same question he’d heard virtually all season: “Is this the spark the Mets need to get it going?” While the lefty replied with all the play-the-good-soldier clichés (“We need to approach things one game at a time . . . forget about what other teams are doing . . . it’s a long season”), his face registered a plethora of twitches and winces, all saying something else: How could anyone who’s actually watched the Mets play the past three months think they’re going anywhere?
Speaking of priceless expressions, with Nelson Doubleday now suing to get the sticker value of the Met franchise raised a few hundred million before he surrenders his half-interest to co-owner Fred Wilpon, and with none of the starting pitchers signed past 2002 except for Pedro Astacio (if the Mets pick up his option year), it may be a while before the Mets make anybody but their fans grimace or wince. With an aging roster (Rey Ordoñez is now—hello—31 1/2) and bloated salaries (close to $70 million is committed for next year, and that’s excluding any starting pitchers), and with no significant prospects being developed by impatient GM Steve Phillips (who’s under Wilpon’s thumb), the Mets are looking more and more like they did in the early ’90s, when they tried to buy a successful team rather than construct one, with dismal results. A little more infantile clubhouse behavior like Roberto Alomar‘s tantrum last week after Roger Cedeño ribbed him about an old baseball card picture and we’ll soon be back in Bobby “I’ll show you the Bronx” Bonilla and Bret “Let ’em eat bleach” Saberhagen territory. And it’s barely July. Ugh. —Billy Altman
THE BEANTOWN RATS
Hatred and hope spring eternal for citizens of the Red Sox nation. Outside Fenway Park before last Wednesday’s game against the Cleveland Indians, that team wasn’t the villain. Near where anti-abortion protesters held large, graphic signs calling abortions a “holocaust,” we spotted vendors hawking anti-Yankee bumper stickers and T-shirts. “Yankees Suck,” read one original bumper sticker, but even Boston fans can be more imaginative: Another T-shirt slogan read, “Yankee My Wankee.” Major self-esteem issues also surfaced, especially on a T-shirt for sale whose slogan admitted the sad truth: “Any Team Can Have a Bad Century.”
One fan inside Fenway was so desperate to back up his dreams with dollars that we saw him jump out of his box seat near the Indian dugout as Cleveland slugger Jim Thome walked toward the on-deck circle, wave a twenty at Thome, and say, “Here, Jim, I’ll contribute this to your signing bonus.” The player looked up and smiled. But Thome, a free agent after this season, seemed unlikely to actually be moved, emphasizing to a Boston sports-talk host his loyalty to the Tribe. Besides, former GM Dan Duquette depleted the Red Sox farm system so much that there aren’t any prospects likely to entice the Indians.
Not that facts will get in the way of fervor. After the game, which the Sox won 7-4, breaking a four-game losing streak, one of the vendors selling anti-Yankee paraphernalia crowed, “Business is great. Besides, we’re a half-game ahead of the Yankees.” At least for one night. —Peter Ephross